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Gravel Bike on Moab’s Shafer Trail and Potash Road

Updated: Mar 18

Colorado River Overlook from Potash Road

A gravel bike on Moab's Shafer Trail and Potash Road is likely the most undiscovered cycling route in all of Moab, Utah. With the rise in popularity of gravel biking, this route should be a bucket list route for any gravel cyclist willing to explore and push the boundaries of what a gravel bike can handle.

Shafer Trail Switchbacks

Are you looking for a gravel bike adventure in the Moab area but not sure you can handle the one-hundred-plus mile White Rim Road? Why not make a loop from Moab that catches the highlights of the White Rim but with a more manageable distance and resupply options? Follow this Moab Adventure Condo loop route as we start from the Lions Park in Moab and take in all the best sites the area has to offer.

Moab Canyon Pathway Bridge

The loop starts by exploring the Old Spanish Trail bike route, aka Moab Canyon Pathway, from Moab to UT Hwy 313. This paved route starts on the edge of Moab at Lions Park and crosses a beautiful bike bridge across the Colorado River. The path follows a combination of newly constructed and paved trail plus what was once old highway 191.

Old Spanish Trail bike Route Moab

After just two miles you will pass the entrance to Arches National Park, which in itself could be an epic road route. But for this ride, we will continue up the old highway on a winding path that climbs 525 feet to the open desert above the Moab Canyon. An attentive rider will notice there are many mountain bike trails in this area, they are all a part of the Bar-M trail system. Eventually, the pathway approaches then passes under Hwy 191, and parallels the active railroad before ending at the junction with UT-313 at the Moab Giants Dinosaur Museum.

intestine Man pictograph

There is no bike route along UT-313 but there is a wide shoulder. The Sevenmile Canyon area has many well-known rock art sites that are hidden in plain sight along the road. Just before starting the climb out of Sevenmile, look for a wide pull-off on the right side of the road. From here a sharp eye will be able to spot the Intestine Man about 10-12 feet off the ground on the edge of the canyon wall.

cycling to Canyonlands National Park

The views in the area are so impressive, that you may not even notice you are climbing. But, UT-313 climbs from 4500 feet to a high point of 6100 feet at the turn-off to Dead Horse Point State Park. From here the route actually starts a slight descent into Canyonlands National Park. There are signs along the road that warns of no water in the park. However, there is a hand pump at the visitor's center that I used to refill my water bottles.

After what could be considered an epic ride even if you turned around at the visitor's center, the fun finally starts as we turn off the pavement onto the dirty and gravel road that leads to the Shafer Switchbacks. Let the Adventure Start!

Descending Shafer Switchbacks on bike

It’s spring break and time for our annual trip to Moab, UT I was looking for some type of exciting/boneheaded thing to do on my Specialized Diverge gravel bike. My first thought was to do the White Rim on a gravel bike but I didn’t want to do 100 miles solo with no real bailout. The next best idea was to do a road ride that included part of the White Rim Loop but allowed for bailouts if I needed them due to a mechanical or the dreaded bonk. So I climbed the paved road to Canyonlands National Park.

hairpin turn on shafer switchback

I was a little worried about what I would find at the park. Some websites said they had water, others didn’t. Things weren’t looking good when I passed a sign that said no water in the park, but whatever, I just kept going. Luckily when I got there, there was a water pump at the visitor center and I was able to refill.

potash road gravel route

Now it was time for the adventure, the Shaffer Switchbacks. A 2000-foot loose gravel drop right off the mesa. Right at the start a tour guide company person tried to talk me out of taking the trail. Whatever, what do they know? The trail wouldn’t be too bad on a mountain bike but it will beat the crap out of you on a gravel bike. The road surface alternated between rock and dirt that was packed as solid as rocks. Now I know why Keegan Swenson did the White Rim on a mountain bike when he got the FKT.

potash road gravel route

While on the switchbacks I tried to ride as close as I could to get to the edge to get some good GoPro footage. It was kinda cool to zoom past tourists in their cars when you know they were thinking they really should not have taken their cars down this road. Once to the bottom the views are 5 star, it really is some of the best scenery in the world.

pyramid butte dead horse point state park

Even though the road to Potash was described as a gravel road, I didn’t see much gravel, it was all rock. Twice I thought I broke a rim, I might have, but I’m scared to look. It was impossible to hold on to the bars, you just had to kind of loosely grip them and let the bike bounce around. And bounce they did, so much so that my hands got hot from the friction. Regardless of the rough road, the views were amazing and it was well worth the effort.

bike route along moab's river road

The last 17 miles I was back on the pavement and I was able to average about 20mph until the last 3 miles. At the end I was bombarded by a headwind that was so strong I could hardly move forward. In the end, it was a great ride. The only thing I would change would be that I would do it in reverse next time and get a 30-mile coast back to town. I don’t think it would be much harder to climb the switchbacks than it was to descend them.

If you are considering a Moab bike adventure we would recommend checking out the townhomes at Moab Adventure Condo. We stayed with them and it was so nice to have room to relax and not be stuck in a cramped hotel room. They also had large double garages so we could securely store our bikes at night out of our bedroom. Most of their condos have bike repair stands and tools to keep your bike in working order while on your trip.


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